Black Gold, Libya’s Wealth! Who Gets It?

Moving sand dunes, rocks and mountains in Tadr...
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Even before the fate of Tripoli is sealed, the great oil grab is already beginning. BP has a contentious oil and gas exploration contract in Libya, which the UK government will be anxious for it to resume. Italian oil giant ENI is the first to send staff back to Libya, and its shares rose on the news. France’s Total and Austria’s OMV also did well as investors hoped they would soon be able to resume production in Libya. But at what price to the Libyan people?

­The Italian Foreign Minister fired the starting gun, saying Italy’s ENI oil company will play the number-one role in the region.

British PM David Cameron already delivered a promise, seen by many as more of a threat, that the NATO mission in Libya, which is “to protect civilians,” will continue for “as long as it is needed” to make sure a safe transition to democracy.

As allied forces lend air support to the rebels to take Tripoli, the Stop the War Coalition warns Libyans not to expect that they are getting something for nothing.

Western powers do not do this without asking for payback. Why is it that the head TNC [Transitional National Council] is going to Paris to meet with French President Sarkozy? Of course, that is one very important issue that was why the Western powers and Tony Blair and others struck a deal with Gaddafi in the first place. It will be exactly what they’re seeking to continue with the TNC to further exploit those oil riches.”

The British government makes no secret of the fact that its motives in supporting the rebels are not entirely altruistic. Last year alone the UK exported around US$40 billion worth of goods and services to North Africa and the Middle East.

But “black gold” is the key – Libya has the largest oil reserves in Africa. “When Western powers look at the region, they talk about humanity and democracy, but they’re thinking about oil.

Months of chaos await Libya if the NATO-led operation in the country topples Muammar Gaddafi.  But regime change would suit Western oil interests.  “What emerges from that, suits some of the Western oil interests, especially the British and the French, who were fighting like piranhas over grabbing the most juicy oil sites.

The markets reacted nervously to Libyan opposition forces’ offensive on Tripoli. Hopes are high that oil production in Libya will soon resume. But the rebels now say that some old business partners might no longer be welcome.

But other major oil producers are cautious about joining the race back to Libya. BP said on Monday that it would return to Libya to continue its exploration program “when conditions allow.”

Still, analysts believe that oil giants could be the actual beneficiaries in postwar Libya, especially the countries that have shown the most support for the opposition. The Libyan opposition has hinted that some business contracts will be preferred if they win.

“We don’t have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and UK companies.” Said, Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at the Libyan rebel oil firm Agoco. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”

This could mean that countries that have been calling for the Libyan conflict to be resolved through negotiations might see the loss of billions of dollars in oil contracts. US and European oil giants, meanwhile, might have the market left to themselves and perhaps new players like Qatar.

But the reality is “no matter who ends up running Libya,”  the West will get the country’s oil.